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House Passes Bill to Establish Capitol Riot Commission

Police clear the U.S. Capitol building with tear gas as protesters gather outside in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

The House of Representatives voted 252-175 Wednesday to establish an independent commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot.

Most rank-and-file Republicans rejected the vote with the exception of 35 who broke with their party in favor of the legislation. It now heads to the Senate for approval, where resistance is mounting.

The vote comes after Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition to the legislation earlier Wednesday, signaling that the bill may not have the votes to advance through the Senate. Among McConnell’s objections was the concern that the commission could interfere with existing federal prosecutions of rioters.

The bill’s proponents will need at least ten Senate Republicans join Democrats in backing the bill in order for it to move forward. Moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins said Wednesday that revisions need to be made to the legislation before she could support it.

Lawmakers in both parties have debated for months about the scope and purpose of the commission. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy already voiced his disapproval of the proposal in a statement Tuesday, in which he stated that the commission overlooked other problematic incidents beyond the January 6 event to include the riots that regularly followed Black Lives Matter protests last summer, assorted acts of Antifa violence, and the death of  Capitol police officer William “Billy” Evans.

“Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” McCarthy commented.

Other prominent GOP members stood behind McCarthy’s concerns with the original design of the commission. “The Republican leader wants a broader mandate, which I certainly think is appropriate,” said Republican Representative Jim Jordan. “I don’t know what we are going to be looking at without … looking at the Officer Evans tragedy, so you just never know.”

The legislation passed in the House Wednesday would create ten-person panel to scrutinize “the facts and circumstances of the January 6th attack on the Capitol as well as the influencing factors that may have provoked the attack on our democracy.” The commission affords each party an equal number of appointments and subpoena power, which McCarthy requested early on during negotiations.

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